"Describes in poetic, incantatory language the city's domestic life . . . [and] around this private world swirl the politics of the 1950s in Iraq." New York Times Book Review
"Employs shifts of narrative perspective and a sophisticated technique in this affectionate but critical dissection of her culture. . . . [ Naptalene ] is a pungent, episodic glimpse of childhood in a patriarchal society . . . often intense and lyrical." Kirkus
"Mamdouh's prose is at once lush and refreshingly earthy . . . she anchors her tale with a spirited and highly sympathetic narrator coming of age in a Baghdad long gone." Publishers Weekly
"The first novel by an Iraqi woman to be published in English in the United States . . . is a hallucinatory incantation, a fevered dream and nightmare and, finally, a lyrical evocation of a place disappeared." Ms.
"Ferocious, visceral descriptions . . . give a powerful sense not only of Huda's world but also of the way we make and understand memories." Booklist
"The story of Huda, a young girl growing up in Baghdad during the 1940s and 1950s . . . leaves an indelible impression. Her world is rich with family and neighbors and she notes all of their subtle interactions and secrets." Library Journal
"Beautifully evokes the sounds and scents of old Baghdad, as in her descriptions of Friday night prayers: stained tiles and worshipers with sweat-glistened faces, bare feet and non-stop supplications, incense and perfumes." The Washington Post Book World
"Couldn't be more timely . . .[the novel] subjects one Baghdad neighborhood to the scrutiny of a child who observes its deepest divisions and secrets, providing a profoundly human portrayal of the city that makes it more real, in many ways, than a view through a plasma TV ever could." In These Times
“ Naphtalene sings life at its most intense . . . Alia Mamdouh’s stunning gesture is to have turned over the keys of the narrative to the violent sensitivities and superior intelligence of childhood. Naphtalene is an enchantment bordering on myth. . . . A marriage of the primordial and of modernity, of fury and of love.” Hélène Cixous, from the Foreword
“In the long lost Baghdad of childhood, where love and subversion and respect are melted in a pot of poetry and illusion, the life of a family and their neighbors evolves around the female energy moving between a memorable grandmother and her rule-breaking granddaughter. Naphtalene is a beautiful novel that will help preserve in our hearts the memory of a city systematically being destroyed under our very eyes.” Luisa Valenzuela, author of He Who Searches
“Sinuous, lyrical, and elliptical, this lovely novel is suffused with passion and public drama.” Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Arabian Jazz
Originally published in Arabic in 1986, this first U.S. publication by an award-winning Iraqi author living in Paris explores 1950s Baghdad through the eyes of Huda, a fiery and precocious nine-year-old girl. In the teeming streets and dirty alleyways of her neighborhood, Huda is loud and plays rough; she tells her not-so-secret crush, Mahmoud, that she "can be like a boy." At home, however, she lives in a world of women: her sickly mother, her grandmother and her aunts. Over the next few years, Huda's father abandons them, her mother dies and Huda herself reaches puberty and must wear the dreaded abaya, or black cloak, in public. Also imminent is the end of the monarchy and the coming revolution. Mamdouh's prose is at once lush and refreshingly earthy-the women, in particular, are free with their frank assessments and insults. Mamdouh's tendency to switch between first- and second-person narration (rendering Huda as both "I" and "you") can be disconcerting, and the cast of characters is confusingly large. But she anchors her tale with a spirited and highly sympathetic narrator coming of age in a Baghdad long gone. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A strong-willed girl's life in 1950s Baghdad, depicted by an award-winning Iraqi writer. Mamdouh, winner of the 2004 Naguib Mahfouz Prize for Literature, employs shifts of narrative perspective and a sophisticated technique in this affectionate but critical dissection of her culture. Huda, at age nine, can play with boys and attend a mixed school. But the story evokes a society where the women cluster together indoors and are often subjected to cruelty and abuse by their menfolk. With the exception of her sensitive brother Adil, Huda lives her life almost exclusively among females: her mother Iqbal, her aunts and her grandmother. Her father, Jamil, a police officer, has been known to kick and slap her. He treats her mother, who suffers from tuberculosis, harshly too, eventually revealing he has married a younger woman who can give him more sons. Heartbroken and ill, Iqbal leaves the family home, to die elsewhere. Huda's grandmother, the long-suffering heart of the tale, supports her grandchildren through their father's neglect and mother's death. But Huda's resilient spirit is far from extinguished. Her rite of passage-she commences puberty during the course of the novel-is revealed in a sequence of elliptical scenes in which detailed reality alternates with a more heightened and imagistic prose. Politics remain in the background, with hints of demonstrations against the British. Meanwhile, Huda and Adil continue in their grandmother's care, visiting the cemetery, traveling to Karbala to see their father where he works in the prison. Huda's skepticism toward men is intensified by her aunt Farida's callous treatment at the hands of her unpleasant new husband Munir. Farida, maddened,attacks and humiliates Munir. Jamil, however, has become increasingly subdued. Despite his happy involvement with his new family, his career is failing and the story ends in flames and disruption, with Huda and her relatives uprooted to a new home. A pungent, episodic glimpse of childhood in a patriarchal society: sometimes obscure but often intense and lyrical. (Naphtalene is the author's second novel, originally published in 1986 by an Egyptian press. It is also the first by an Iraqi woman to appear in the U.S.)